Over the past month, I have been privileged to work with several young people in one way or another. Youths can get a bad rap, whether it is on the local community Facebook page (yes, Pam we know YOU didn’t hang around the co-op in your day) or in conversation at the water cooler about their sense of entitlement. 

As a parent to three teenage girls (my husband is spending a lot more time on the golf course these days), I know how challenging it can be to get into their world and accept that they live by a different set of rules. Many things worry me, such as screen time, reading (a proper book) for enjoyment, and developing patience in a world where you can pretty much get everything in one click. 

But it is not all bad, and they can certainly teach us a thing or two, so much so that many organisations are now using a reverse mentoring scheme. This is where mentoring is set up so that the mentee is senior in the organisation and the mentor is more junior. They often focus on technology, business process and innovation but can also include topics such as diversity and inclusion. I have had a few experiences recently, though, where they have held a mirror to us in ways we may have overlooked. It has been a great reminder of some of the basics and soft skills we can sometimes take for granted. 

We had seven students from a local 6th form join us for a recruitment module of a management programme to be our ‘interviewees’. The exercise aimed for our leaders to create a fantastic candidate experience. Based on the feedback from our students, they nailed it. They were met with a warm personal welcome, directed to an area with refreshments, and briefed on the process and many of the other best practices you would expect. But not all recruitment experiences happen this way.

The swanky offices and ipad operated drinks were right up their street, as was the delicious buffet breakfast they were greeted with. It was a far cry from the school canteen. Yes, it probably felt like a luxury to them, but more importantly it said ‘you matter’. They were intrigued about what was beyond the holding area and interview rooms and even requested a tour which was dutifully obliged. 

Being in full-time education meant that they had limited work experience, but our delegates had to work twice as hard to create a good competency-based interview. The students were interviewed with a rigorous process for 45 mins and the unanimous feedback was that not once did they feel under pressure and that it was a pleasurable experience. Gone are the days when interviews were there to bait candidates to ‘see how they respond under pressure’. Every student said they felt able to give their best examples to demonstrate the values. They reported that not only did they feel proud of themselves, but they felt pride from the interviewers too.

The managers remarked on how open they were in the interviews and over lunch afterwards. Due to our digital advances, they were certainly not short of conversation or lacking in social skills. So open, in fact, there were moments when we were emotionally moved by some of their stories of resilience, challenge and overcoming difficulties. They recalled stories of collaboration and feedback conversations to deliver excellence in their coursework amongst their peers.

The workshop concluded with a feedback session both ways. The students were able to share their experiences about what worked and how it could be better with the managers, and the managers were able to give each student feedback on how they came across. Everyone went away with some valuable insights to build on. 

Overall, it was an enriching and uplifting day for us all. We were able to provide the leaders of tomorrow with a first taste of what it is like to be interviewed in the real world, and we were able to refine interviewing skills without a role play in sight. That is the practical in-the-moment stuff but it gave us so much more food for thought. It helped the client think through how they could be more proactive in the community and maybe start using their skills to go and talk to students and inspire their future careers. It also got us thinking about how we left them feeling – what if we could recreate this internally and with people, we are trying to attract?

Whether you are onboarding new people, leading a team or collaborating, here are four things that are useful to remember when we are looking to get the most from others:

  1. People need to know they matter – whether it is the space in which you have a meeting, the fact you down tools and are truly present or the way you greet them as they arrive. Remember in the famous words of Maya Angelou “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”. 
  2. Beginners mindset – how would it be if you started to look at a project, a team, or your regular meeting through the eyes of a child? How might the outcome of a conversation that you have regularly, be different if you approached it like it was the first time and with the enthusiasm of a child?
  3. Let go of the fear of being judged – as we move through adulthood, we armour up and start to protect ourselves more and more. We keep bits of ourselves hidden, some of them for a good reason. It is essential to think about social norms, but it also fuels connection when we can allow a certain amount of vulnerability. 
  4. Say it as it is – when something delights you say so; when something bothers you, say so; when you can see an opportunity for improvement in others, share it. Sometimes we can overthink things, so share your thoughts and feelings with kindness and respect, and save the filters for TikTok. 

Teaching these days is a tough gig but having experienced the day that we did, I can see exactly why they keep going. Working with young people is refreshing and life-affirming and my inner wisdom tells me that we may have just changed some lives along the way. 

If you are looking to upskill the leaders in your business and you are looking for inspiring ways to refresh the basics (without a role-play or icebreaker in sight) then get in touch hello@jocowlin.com and we can talk about what you need. 


 Jo x

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